Kazakh president fails to quell protests, ex-Soviet states offer help
Troops and protesters clashed in Kazakhstan's largest city Almaty yesterday, with police saying tens of rioters had been "eliminated" as they tried to storm their offices.
Several armored personnel carriers and dozens of troops entered the main square of Almaty yesterday morning where hundreds of people were protesting against the government for the third day.
Gunshots were heard as troops approached the crowd, but the situation in the square had calmed down since then.
Around Kazakhstan, protests initially sparked by a fuel price rise killed eight police and national guard troops on Tuesday and Wednesday, prompting Kazakh president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to appeal for help from a Russia-led security alliance.
State television reported yesterday that the National Bank of Kazakhstan had decided to suspend work of banks in the country for the safety of their workers.
The Internet in the country is mostly down.
A Russia-led military alliance said it would send peacekeeping forces to "stabilize" Kazakhstan, blaming mass protests that have plunged the ex-Soviet country into chaos on "outside interference."
Long seen as one the most stable of the ex-Soviet republics of Central Asia, energy-rich Kazakhstan was facing its biggest crisis in decades after protesters angry over rising fuel prices stormed government buildings.
Tokayev said in an address to the nation early yesterday that he had appealed to the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, which includes five other ex-Soviet states, to combat what he called "terrorist groups" that had "received extensive training abroad."
The CSTO's chairman, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, then said on Facebook that the alliance would send "collective peacekeeping forces ... for a limited period of time in order to stabilize and normalize the situation in this country" that was caused by "outside interference."
Tokayev said that "terrorists" were seizing buildings, infrastructure and "premises where small arms are located."
He added that they had also commandeered five planes at the airport in the country's biggest city Almaty and said that Kazakhstan's air forces were engaged in a "stubborn battle" near the city.
"I intend to act as tough as possible," he warned in an earlier address.
"Together we will overcome this black period in the history of Kazakhstan."
In Almaty on Wednesday night, hundreds of protesters – some wearing helmets – gathered in the city center and paraded a police vehicle draped with Kazakh flags.
Some videos on social media showed protesters seizing weapons.
Others showed mostly empty streets with the sound of explosions and automatic weapons firing in the background, after local authorities announced the start of "anti-terrorist" operations.
Protests spread across the nation of 19 million this week in outrage over a New Year increase in prices for liquid petroleum gas.
LPG is widely used to fuel cars in the west of the country.
Thousands took to the streets in Almaty and in the western province of Mangystau, saying the price rise was unfair given oil and gas exporter Kazakhstan's vast energy reserves.
After a night of unrest that saw more than 200 people detained, several thousand protesters stormed the mayor's office in Almaty on Wednesday afternoon and appeared to have seized control of the building.
TASS news agency quoted the health ministry as saying more than 1,000 people had been injured during the protests.